A Denial of the Essentiality of Sola Scriptura

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ReformedCuban

Puritan Board Freshman
Good afternoon, everyone. I was having a discussion with someone about the issue of ongoing revelation in Charismatic circles. I asked him if the denial of Sola Scriptura (whether by setting up Sacred Tradition, private revelations, dreams, etc.) is heretical. He said that it wasn't, just that it was false teaching. Does anyone have any ideas on how I should address this? The person I'm referring to is someone who is apparently a Protestant (Calvinist) but who is more comfortable going to a Catholic church than a Baptist church and says that those who believe that baptism is simply a symbolic act not pertinent to anyone's salvation is a heretic.
 

Taylor

Puritan Board Senior
It depends on what one means by "heretical." Do you mean "heresy" as in, if someone holds this or that teaching they will be damned? If that's the case, I can hardly see how someone like Wayne Grudem, for example, who teaches some degree of continuing revelatory work of God (as I understand him), is a heretic. But if you mean "heresy" as in aberrant teaching, then of course there a discussion could be had.
 

ReformedCuban

Puritan Board Freshman
It depends on what one means by "heretical." Do you mean "heresy" as in, if someone holds this or that teaching they will be damned? If that's the case, I can hardly see how someone like Wayne Grudem, for example, who teaches some degree of continuing revelatory work of God (as I understand him), is a heretic. But if you mean "heresy" as in aberrant teaching, then of course there a discussion could be had.
As I understand Grudem, he does not seem to hold that prophecy today is on par with Scripture. I was merely referring to those who do. The man in question makes the distinction between heresy and error and says that denying Sola Scriptura is not heresy, but error. However, as I understand him, he apparently would say that those who hold to something like a Southern Baptist understanding of the sacrament of baptism are heretical.
 

BayouHuguenot

Puritanboard Clerk
Depends on what is meant by sola scriptura. We do not believe that Scripture is the only source and authority. Only that it is the ultimate. It is the norm that norms lesser norms. Catholics, and some Protestants, often get that wrong.
 

Taylor

Puritan Board Senior
As I understand Grudem, he does not seem to hold that prophecy today is on par with Scripture. I was merely referring to those who do. The man in question makes the distinction between heresy and error and says that denying Sola Scriptura is not heresy, but error. However, as I understand him, he apparently would say that those who hold to something like a Southern Baptist understanding of the sacrament of baptism are heretical.
I see. Thanks for the clarification. This is a very complex issue. If you're looking for a one-size-fits all answer, you won't find it, and you should probably stay away from those who believe they have one.

First, we have to make sure we are clear about first, second, and third tier theological issues. In the first tier are those doctrines (I would call them dogmas) without which there is no Christianity, such as belief in the Trinity. In the second tier are those doctrines which are of such importance that it precludes fellowship with those who differ, but denying a second tier doctrine is not necessarily to deny the Faith, although it can be, depending on the circumstances (see below). An example of this would, in my opinion, be those pertaining to charismaticism, and even to a degree sola Scriptura. In the third tier are those doctrines which permits those who differ to remain in fellowship with one another, such as differing views on the millennium. Third tier doctrines, while important, have no bearing on our eternal state.

But it gets more complex. Second, we also have to look at motive and the degree to which one is informed. For example, is this person who denies sola Scriptura (which I defined as a second tier issue) doing so in high-handed rebellion? If so, that may constitute a denial of the Faith, even though it is (again, in my opinion) a second tier issue. But perhaps this person who denies sola Scriptura has never been taught well; they could just be ignorant. A historical parallel to this issue is the initial spread of Christianity to China, which took place very, very early. The problem is that those who evangelized China in the early years were Nestorians. Does this mean that every single Christian in China during those times are now damned? I would say no, because they had no opportunity to know any different, yet many there no doubt had genuine faith in Christ notwithstanding being in technical error on a first tier issue.

All these kinds of things must be taken into account. And even then, we are not and can never have the requisite capacities to make any pronouncement on the state of someone's soul. We can make really good guesses, especially on first tier issues. After all, if someone denies the Trinity, they worship an idol, and are most likely unregenerate. But it is very conceivable to me that there are people out there who deny, either implicitly or explicitly, the Reformation doctrine of sola Scriptura and are yet saved. This is why I label it a second tier doctrine.

N.B. Lest someone jump on me for not labelling sola Scriptura a first tier dogma, I do believe denying sola Scriptura is a very serious problem, and it ought to be rebuked and corrected any time it is encountered.
 

ReformedCuban

Puritan Board Freshman
Depends on what is meant by sola scriptura. We do not believe that Scripture is the only source and authority. Only that it is the ultimate. It is the norm that norms lesser norms. Catholics, and some Protestants, often get that wrong.
Based on our previous conversations, I assumed that the historical understanding of Sola Scriptura (in contrast to Solo Scriptura) was a given and agreed upon. So that isn't an issue.
 

ReformedCuban

Puritan Board Freshman
Then it seems that the real problem is his going to a Mass?
No, because he wouldn't agree with the Mass either (I don't know why he's more comfortable with going to a Mass than to have the Lord's Supper in a non-denominational or Southern Baptist church, other than he's more "high church"). The problem is how he defines heresy in contrast to error.
 

ReformedCuban

Puritan Board Freshman
I see. Thanks for the clarification. This is a very complex issue. If you're looking for a one-size-fits all answer, you won't find it, and you should probably stay away from those who believe they have one.

First, we have to make sure we are clear about first, second, and third tier theological issues. In the first tier are those doctrines (I would call them dogmas) without which there is no Christianity, such as belief in the Trinity. In the second tier are those doctrines which are of such importance that it precludes fellowship with those who differ, but denying a second tier doctrine is not necessarily to deny the Faith, although it can be, depending on the circumstances (see below). An example of this would, in my opinion, be those pertaining to charismaticism, and even to a degree sola Scriptura. In the third tier are those doctrines which permits those who differ to remain in fellowship with one another, such as differing views on the millennium. Third tier doctrines, while important, have no bearing on our eternal state.

But it gets more complex. Second, we also have to look at motive and the degree to which one is informed. For example, is this person who denies sola Scriptura (which I defined as a second tier issue) doing so in high-handed rebellion? If so, that may constitute a denial of the Faith, even though it is (again, in my opinion) a second tier issue. But perhaps this person who denies sola Scriptura has never been taught well; they could just be ignorant. A historical parallel to this issue is the initial spread of Christianity to China, which took place very, very early. The problem is that those who evangelized China in the early years were Nestorians. Does this mean that every single Christian in China during those times are now damned? I would say no, because they had no opportunity to know any different, yet many there no doubt had genuine faith in Christ notwithstanding being in technical error on a first tier issue.

All these kinds of things must be taken into account. And even then, we are not and can never have the requisite capacities to make any pronouncement on the state of someone's soul. We can make really good guesses, especially on first tier issues. After all, if someone denies the Trinity, they worship an idol, and are most likely unregenerate. But it is very conceivable to me that there are people out there who deny, either implicitly or explicitly, the Reformation doctrine of sola Scriptura and are yet saved. This is why I label it a second tier doctrine.

N.B. Lest someone jump on me for not labelling sola Scriptura a first tier dogma, I do believe denying sola Scriptura is a very serious problem, and it ought to be rebuked and corrected any time it is encountered.
I understand. Thank you for such a considerate answer. However, wouldn't the issue of baptism fall under the third tier?
 

Jack K

Puritan Board Professor
I would not call it heresy. I would call it a serious error. I save the term heresy for that which is against the ecumenical creeds, though I do realize that others use the term more broadly. In that way, heresy is a bit of a problem word that requires definition if one is to use it.

Why is it important to you that he label it heresy? Why is it not enough that he acknowledges it to be error?

The word used to label bad teaching is less important than the approach one takes to it. You might more profitably discuss a question like "Would it be acceptable to belong to a church that does not hold to Sola Scriptura?" than discuss whether or not to label it heresy.
 

ReformedCuban

Puritan Board Freshman
I would not call it heresy. I would call it a serious error. I save the term heresy for that which is against the ecumenical creeds, though I do realize that others use the term more broadly. In that way, heresy is a bit of a problem word that requires definition if one is to use it.

Why is it important to you that he label it heresy? Why is it not enough that he acknowledges it to be error?

The word used to label bad teaching is less important than the approach one takes to it. You might more profitably discuss a question like "Would it be acceptable to belong to a church that does not hold to Sola Scriptura?" than discuss whether or not to label it heresy.
I merely assumed that a denial of sola Scriptura was heretical due to my initial exposure to the subject. I watched Todd Friel and his interview with Phil Johnson, and the way that they addressed the issue of Scripture and ongoing revelation conveyed the idea that it was a fundamental issue that determined whether one is truly a believer or not. I suppose the issue is, as you said, how one defines heresy.
 

Taylor

Puritan Board Senior
...wouldn't the issue of baptism fall under the third tier?
Different people would probably give different answers. I would place it as a second tier doctrine. For one thing, the Westminster Standards I believe compels me to say as much, since it calls it "a great sin to contemn or neglect this ordinance." For another, while baptism does not prohibit me from having Christian fellowship with Baptists, it does prohibit me from having ecclesiastical fellowship with them.
 

ReformedCuban

Puritan Board Freshman
Different people would probably give different answers. I would place it as a second tier doctrine. For one thing, the Westminster Standards I believe compels me to say as much, since it calls it "a great sin to contemn or neglect this ordinance." For another, while baptism does not prohibit me from having Christian fellowship with Baptists, it does prohibit me from having ecclesiastical fellowship with them.
Thank you, Taylor. Do you mind if I PM for further questions? It's obvious now that I'm not as clearly articulate in the matter of heresy as I had originally thought.
 

ReformedCuban

Puritan Board Freshman
I'd like to make an important note: he now says that he was mistaken. He originally thought that a Baptist I was debating (who said that baptism wasn't necessary for salvation) denied that baptism was a sacrament/ordinance. I assumed he mas making a blanket statement, and I got concerned about how he defined heresy.
 
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